IS ADDICTION REALLY A DISEASE?
The short answer is yes. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), National Institute of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) it is a disease. In 1956, they classified alcoholism as a disease and then addiction followed in 1987. It's a brain disease which fundamentally changes brain pathways. Symptoms show up in the form of compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences.
WHY CAN'T MY LOVED ONE JUST STOP DRINKING AND/OR USING?
What being addicted does is change our brain pathways. In short, individuals with addiction issues lose the ability to "just stop". Addiction works on the pleasure centers of the brains overloading an individual with dopamine. It works on the same part of the brain that allows us to feel good when we eat a tasty meal, drink water when we're thirsty, and orgasm when we have sex.
HOW CAN MY LOVED ONE GET HELP?
Here are a few options for you and your loved one:
Substance abuse treatment facility (rehab). There are a couple of types of substance abuse treatment, outpatient, residential (short and long-term), drug counseling, group counseling etc. Each facility should have a combination of these types of treatment. Here are a couple links to find a treatment center near you: SAMHSA or NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH. This was the third thing that I did when I got sober.
A medical professional with a background in addiction. Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Therapist, Counselor etc. Addiction is different than the typical things that these professionals deal with so make sure that whoever you choose has a certification and/or background in dealing with addiction. This was the first thing that I did when I decided to get sober.
12 step fellowship. This refers to groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These support groups have helped millions of people recover over the years. This was the second thing that I did when I got sober.
WHAT ABOUT AN INTERVENTION?
An intervention is a carefully planned meeting with your loved one that is suffering from addiction. Here are some basics about an intervention:
Consult a mental health professional. To me, this one is a MUST whether doing an intervention or not. Find a psychologist, therapist and/or counselor with experience in addiction. They should also have a certification as a substance abuse counselor (different acronyms depending on what state you're in).
The basic goal of an intervention is to get your loved one into treatment (rehab). REMEMBER though, that substance abuse treatment is 100% voluntary. A patient can elect to leave or stop going anytime they want to.
Assemble your intervention team. These should be a group of family and friends who are in this person's life often. Think, wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, best friend etc.
Plan the intervention with the help of the professional you've chosen. Be patient, putting together a sound intervention plan takes time. Be sure to coordinate with your team and intervention guide.
Post-intervention, EVERYONE has to follow through on what they said they were gonna do. Once again, EVERYONE has to FOLLOW THROUGH on what they said they were gonna do. This is a message for everyone on the intervention team, not for the person who's suffering from addiction.
This is a tricky one for me because at face value if you look through all the suggested steps of an intervention, they make sense. However, being an addict almost never makes sense to our loved ones and sometimes not even to ourselves! I didn't have an intervention when I was drinking but can imagine what it would have been like. I already felt sad, lonely, embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, angry, depressed, and hopeless. And I felt those things while I was hiding away. Had all that been brought to light and shown to me by my family and friends? Well, I just don't know how helpful that would've been. I'm not against interventions, I just want you to know that I have not found any data showing their efficacy. In order for an alcoholic/addict to become sober and sustain that, they have to want to do it. An intervention may get your loved one into treatment, but they can leave anytime they want to. My other major concern is that EVERYONE must follow through on what they said they're going to do. For example, in an intervention, you would share how your loved ones' drinking and/or using drugs has harmed you and how you feel about that. You would ask that they go to treatment and if they don't, you would not have any contact with them until they get help. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have a loved one suffering from addiction and then have to follow through on this...no calls, texts, or visits. On top of not giving them a place to stay, food to eat, or money to buy anything. To completely cut off someone from your life is hard. Come to think of it, when I got sober I had to completely cut ties with my best friend at the time...I'm still sad about that to this day but I've had to accept that he can't be in my life anymore.
For more info on interventions:
HOW MUCH DOES REHAB COST? WHAT DO I DO? DO WE NEED INSURANCE?
Here are a few tips to help you find the right treatment program for you or your loved one:
Contact your medical insurance company, ask them about your plan and how to go about locating a treatment center.
Here are a couple links to find a treatment center near you: SAMHSA treatment locator or NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH
If you don't have insurance, each state has funding to provide treatment to people without insurance. Here's a LINK to help get you started.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I CAN DO? I FEEL SO HELPLESS...I WISH I COULD DO MORE.
Addiction is a devastating family disease that affects millions of families all over our country and the world. One of the hardest parts of addiction is that as a family member or friend, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. It is highly recommended that you find a mental health professional with a background in addiction to work with. A psychologist, therapist, counselor etc. Not only will your loved one need support while trying to get sober, you will too. It's also important to know that you're not alone. Al-Anon (anonymous) is a support group for families of addicts/alcoholics that has helped millions of families just like yours. They know what you're going through. Check out a meeting near you and see if it makes sense: Al-Anon
Sobriety, recovery from alcohol, drugs, food, sex, video games, shopping, gambling etc is an on-going process. For the addict, they have to know that they didn't get to addiction by themselves so they can't get to recovery that way either. It takes multiple sources of support, patience, work, trial, and error to get there. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone around the addict so please, as they are working on their sobriety, remember that it's ok (and in fact, suggested) that you get support from multiple sources because it will take patience, work, trial and error for you too. Be hopeful because we do recover :)